Above: The colourful exterior of the pub on a summer’s day.
It is just possible that about half the people in the world, who know the name of Sherlock Holmes, actually think that he was a real person. The creator of the character, Arthur Conan Doyle, had an intimate knowledge of London and gave him the fictional address of 221b Baker Street, which is now a site in the City of Westminster. Before 1965 it was within the administration of the Metropolitan Borough of St Marylebone. That actual address is a possible number in Baker Street but the houses that would have had that number were replaced by an office block many years ago. Initially it was the Head Offices of Abbey National and remained so until 2005.
Although the stories were very successful, Doyle became tired of the character and arranged for a ‘final story’ – which ended with Sherlock Holmes falling into a high waterfall in Switzerland. The readers protested that their hero had been killed off and clamoured for more stories. Doyle eventually recanted and brought the super-sleuth back to the streets of London for many more crimes to be solved.
If you have been reading carefully – and not skimming over the text – you will have seen that the famous address was, until 1965, situated in the old Metropolitan Borough of St Marylebone. In 1951 London planned a celebration of the Great Exhibition – held in 1851 in Hyde Park – with an up-to-date exhibition on South Bank. The 1951 exhibition was just as large, if not larger. The only building remaining from that time is the Royal Festival Hall.
There were many many exhibits to see but one ‘corner’ of the exhibition was allocated for each of the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs to put on a small display to promote their borough. St Marylebone had no difficulty choosing their subject – it was to be based on Sherlock Holmes. He was the most famous person who never lived there. The library came up with the idea of creating a room which was laid out according the descriptions in the stories.
This is where the story of the pub near the Strand now starts. It is an attractive Victorian pub that originally opened under the name Northumberland Arms. By 1957, the room that had been on show on South Bank was then in storage. The owners of the pub were Whitbread and Co who owned that exhibit which had been put together by Marylebone Borough Library and the Abbey National. Whitbread decided to take the display out of storage and install it in an upstairs room of the pub. At the same time the pub was renamed the ‘Sherlock Holmes’.
Above: Looking into the room on the first floor of the Sherlock Holmes pub.
The pub is laid out in the usual way – with a bar downstairs. Upstairs is a dining area with part of the large space occupied by the small room which can be viewed through a glass window. Although there is a Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, which is quite well-known, it is surprising how few people – both Londoners and tourists – even know about the room on display near the Strand. Even fewer people have ever looked through the window to see the exhibits. The pub, by the way, stands at a fork where Northumberland Avenue joins onto Northumberland Avenue.